COULD Kinnegar Barracks, in Holywood, be repurposed as a centre to hold up to 500 refugees?
That’s the question being asked after leaked documents appeared to show the Home Office eyeing several surplus military bases around the UK as potential accommodation for asylum seekers.
Kinnegar Barracks, located on the shore opposite Holywood, was originally meant to sold off in 2022, but was readied as an emergency mortuary when Covid struck.
Ministry of Defence officials have said they want to put it on the market next year – but in documents obtained by the Times newspaper, the Home Office lists it as potentially a source for up to 500 beds for migrants.
The idea comes as the government struggles to bring its asylum system under control, with vast backlogs in processing applications and a lack of accommodation for refugees.
Opposed to the move, North Down MP Stephen Farry thinks that surplus military facilities aren’t suitable for asylum seekers, and believes that the Kinnegar idea is part of a government attempt to create ‘a hostile environment’ for people in the UK asylum system.
“This represents a deliberate stepping down in standards, with the Immigration Minister openly referring to a more basic level of provision,” said Mr Farry.
“Barracks will see those fleeing from war and persecution even more isolated from communities, with an increase in stress, anxiety and other mental health issues.”
The Alliance MP adds that much of Kinnegar is derelict, the barracks having been gradually wound down over the past decade, and argues that it can’t meet the needs of asylum seekers, especially when it comes to food.
“While there are some apartments on the base, they were last used to provide temporary accommodation to police officers during the G8 summit in 2013 and there are no common facilities on the site for provision of food,” he said.
“Although the apartments are self-catering, asylum seekers are not allowed to engage in paid employment or go on benefits, and cannot afford to pay for food and energy costs on their limited weekly allowance.
“Furthermore, entry and exit to the site would be tightly controlled, which would prevent their ability to even seek food and supplies.”
Mr Farry says that he’s still trying to get officials to confirm how serious their Kinnegar plans are, stating that ‘at this stage, it is only on a long-list of surplus Ministry of Defence properties’.
But he maintains that massive reform of the UK asylum system is needed, stating that the government is ‘playing dangerous games with refugees’.
“People have a right under international law to seek asylum in the UK,” he says. “Indeed, contrary to the propaganda, most asylum claims are accepted by the UK government in due course.
“The government is now pursuing draconian legislation that would in effect criminalise those seeking asylum outside of a very limited number of routes, which themselves are not working, and lead to people being detained and deported.
“There are over 100 million refugees around the world. Very few want to come to the UK. Nonetheless, migration driven by war, persecution and climate change will be a reality for many decades to come.
“The UK, including Northern Ireland, will have an ongoing responsibility to play its part.”